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By Politico Pro Staff
Justice Antonin Scalia’s death could change the course of history on the contentious social and legal issues pending before the Supreme Court this term, especially in closely divided cases where he was expected to serve as a lynchpin of a conservative majority.
In cases where the eight remaining justices are evenly divided, appeals court rulings would be left to stand, but no precedent would be set for future cases. The justices could also hold cases and leave stays of lower court rulings in place, while awaiting confirmation of a new justice, but it’s unclear if they would do so for nearly a year if the Senate refuses to consider any nominee while President Barack Obama is in office.
Here are policy areas that hang in the balance:
Many Texas abortion clinics could close, an outcome that may have happened anyway with Scalia on the court.
The court next month will hear the most significant abortion case since 1992, when the justices ruled states could legally impose restrictions on abortion that did not put an “undue burden” on access to the procedure. This term’s abortion case, which centers on restrictions Texas placed on providers and clinics, will again test how far states can go to limit abortion.
The court is expected to be divided along familiar partisan lines, with Justice Anthony Kennedy serving as a possible swing vote. A 4-4 decision in the case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, would leave in place a lower court ruling that upheld the restrictions on clinics.
Religious nonprofits, including charities, schools, colleges and hospitals, may have to live with the decisions of seven appeals courts, which ruled against their challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate.
The plaintiffs in Zubik v. Burwell, including the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and the Little Sisters of the Poor, argue that both the law’s requirement that employers provide female employees with health insurance that includes no-cost access to certain forms of birth control — and the government’s work-around set up for religious nonprofits — violate their religious freedom.
Appeals courts decided the cases against them largely because the administration offered them the work-around the Supreme Court sought in an earlier case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, in 2014. The case pits questions of religious liberty against a woman’s right to equal health-care access, and it will be the fourth time the court has considered some aspect of what has come to be known as Obamacare.
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